Northern Michigan gets key penalty kill and goal early in third period to defeat Ohio State

MARQUETTE – In 2012, the Northern Michigan University hockey team’s ability to kill penalties was as nonexistent as its ability to score goals.

That wasn’t the case in the first four minutes of the third period on Friday, however.

The Wildcats began the third by killing off the final 2 minutes and 22 seconds of a five-minute major, then scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal less than 90 seconds later to defeat The Ohio State Buckeyes 4-2 in CCHA play at the Berry Events Center, improving to 4-0-1 since Jan. 1.

“Anytime you kill off a full five minutes, it’s definitely huge momentum for your team,” NMU senior forward Matt Thurber said. “Then right after getting a goal, it gave us a big boost for the rest of the game to finish off the third.

“Getting all that done in that four- or five-minute stretch there was definitely the turnaround for our team to bring in a solid third period.”

The Buckeyes (8-10-5 overall, 7-5-3 in CCHA) and Wildcats (10-10-4, 4-9-4) traded goals early in the third period after NMU killed off the second-half of the five-minute major assed late in the second period to sophomore defenseman Jake Baker for checking from behind.

NMU took a 3-1 lead on the fourth goal of the season and second score in three games by freshman forward Darren Nowick 3:48 into the period and 1:26 after the major penalty expired.

NMU head coach Walt Kyle said the goal came at a key moment since the ‘Cats would be playing the final 20 minutes of Friday’s game with only five defensemen.

“As the third period went along, you could see fatigue start to creep in our defensemen,” Kyle said. “We weren’t gapping like we should. We weren’t up on the play. We weren’t able to stop some of their rush offense or counter offense that we were earlier in the night.

“If we didn’t get that early (goal), as fatigue crept in, you don’t know if you’re going to get it.”

OSU sophomore forward Tanner Fritz pulled the Buckeyes back within one goal on a two-man break away less than a minute after Nowick’s score.

Northern – which didn’t get a single power play all night or see one penalty go against the Buckeyes – was forced to kill off a third and final Buckeye advantage with less than four minutes to play following a penalty for too many men on the ice.

Thurber sealed the victory a minute after the kill and with 20 seconds on the BEC clock, scoring his second goal of the season and team-high 20th point on an empty OSU net.

“I thought we had real good play throughout all four lines,” Kyle said. “I think you saw that. The scoring was real spread out.

“I think the guys got better as the game went along and that’s important as well.”

Northern took a 2-0 lead in the second period by sneaking a pair of pucks past the near post of OSU senior netminder Brady Hjelle.

Assisted by freshman forward Cohen Adair and junior defenseman Wade Epp, senior forward Kory Kaunsito scored his fourth goal of the season and second in two games by beating Hjelle over keeper’s right leg.

Junior Erik Higby joined Kaunisto in scoring in back-to-back games, beating Hjelle over the right shoulder six minutes later at 15:11 of the second period to put NMU up 2-0 with assists from Adair and Thurber.

“(Kaunisto) got his goal short side, came around the net and put it in by his low blocker,” Higby said breaking down the near-post goals. “I didn’t really have much to shoot at so I just threw it at the net and it went in the same spot. It was kind of lucky.”

The Buckeyes, who caught iron on three occasions in the first period but never the back of the net, cut the NMU lead in half 17:09 into the second via a shot from the right faceoff circle by freshman fourth-line forward Anthony Greco to the far post, beating the right leg of NMU junior goaltender Jared Coreau.

Coreau finished with 25 saves on 27 shots to beat Hjelle, who came into Friday’s game with a nation-leading 1.44 goals against average and a .952 save percentage that ranks second among NCAA Division I goaltenders.

Hjelle, who was giving up less than a goal per game in his 11 CCHA contests, finished with 28 saves on 31 shots.

“They are a team that handled us pretty easily down there in two games and I think we had an opportunity here to play well and show them we are a better team than we were down there,” Kyle said, referring to NMU’s 2-0 and 4-2 losses to OSU back in November in Columbus.

“They are going to push us harder tomorrow and we’re going to have to be ready to be pushed.”

The Wildcats and Buckeyes meet again tonight at 7:35 p.m. at the Berry Events Center.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at